Lauri Wright, Ph.D., RDN, LD
National Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
The United States has nearly 40,000 grocery stores and more than 1 million restaurants, but 15 million households lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.
Poverty, unemployment, and underemployment are key drivers of food insecurity. African Americans, Latinos, older adults, and people living in households led by single parents are more likely to be food insecure.
As a result, people in these demographics often go hungry or choose less expensive, high-calorie foods that don’t deliver the nutrients they need.
Federal child nutrition programs that offer free and reduced meals, and fresh produce at schools play a vital role in providing children with nutritious foods. Children who lack access to enough nutritious food are more likely to have difficulty paying attention in school, and suffer from behavioral issues and anxiety. Households with children experience higher rates of food insecurity than the national average: 15.7 percent vs. 11.8 percent, according to the USDA.
Older adults face barriers to finding healthy food, including living in areas known as “food deserts,” as well as a lack of transportation, physical mobility, and cognitive function. Adults of all ages who lack access to enough nutritious foods are more likely to experience mental health issues, and chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes.
Federal food and nutrition assistance programs can help. Households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are less likely to be food insecure than those who do not receive SNAP benefits at the same income level.
Some community organizations collaborate with food banks and grocery stores to offer vouchers for fresh produce. According to a 2019 position paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, older adults benefit most from participating in community-based food and nutrition programs that enable them to remain healthy and independent.
If you want to join the fight against hunger, consider volunteering at your local food bank. Food insecurity is a problem we can all work together to solve.
Lauri Wright, Ph.D., RDN, LD, National Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, [email protected]